CHARLOTTE, NC – I was in a coffee shop in NoDa early Monday morning, sitting, staring into blank space trying to gather my thoughts. I couldn’t, in accordance with everyone else around the world. The shop was playing a song called “Love Like Ghosts” by Lord Huron. A line in the song perfectly explained my inability to grasp my emotional state for the past 18 hours.
“There ain’t a language for the things I feel.”
There’s this pain that drives deep into the core of your body. You can’t describe it. It’s just there, nagging, pulling at you. There’s no language to explain what it is. It feels like a bad dream but it’s not.
The world lost a man who had so much more life to live. One who left a perpetual impact not only on the game of basketball but life.
Life is so immeasurably precious, so we need to cherish every waking moment. Your childhood hero passing can be a sweet reminder that we all only have so much time left on this earth.
For many players in the NBA today, Kobe Bryant was their idol. He was this generation’s Michael Jordan. Everyone around the league has been in pure desolation since mid-afternoon Sunday. Kyrie Irving missed the Nets’ game Sunday due to Bryant’s passing. Chris Paul sat out the Thunder’s game against Luka and the Dallas Mavericks Monday night. Many players were seen crying on the bench before, during, or following their team’s games Sunday. Mark Cuban also announced that no one in a Mavericks’ uniform would ever wear the number 24 ever again. The list goes on. Kobe was a god-like figure.
During the Hornets’ practice on Monday, the media got to speak to several Hornets players and coaches including Miles Bridges, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and assistant coach Jay Triano. They spoke on their raw initial feelings after the news broke, their own favorite Kobe memories that they’ll forever cherish, along with the everlasting legacy Kobe left.
Marvin Williams is arguably the strongest voice in the Hornets’ locker room. The 15-year vet has carried all of the knowledge he’s learned throughout his career and poured it into this young team. Marvin’s calming presence immediately shows the wisdom he carries. He aspires to be a great man before anything, something he valued in Bryant.
Kobe’s death was obviously “really tough” for Marvin. What hurts him the most was that a family lost their father and husband.
“I think the thing that hurts me the most is just seeing the father that he was,” Marvin told the media Monday. “As someone that has two young girls, knowing that he’s not going to get the opportunity to see them grow up is what hurts me the most. To me, it wasn’t about the basketball player that he was. Everybody knows he is one of the best to ever do it. It just hurts me the most to know the father that he was.
“There’s only one Mamba. You can try to emulate him but I think that’s what makes him so special. I just want to do the things I’ve seen him doing with his kids. Being that great father figure, that great husband, the leader in the community, the leader for a franchise.
“Kobe was a hero to all of us, especially my generation. People talk about how great Michael Jordan was. I feel like Kobe was the closest thing to Michael Jordan that we’ll ever see.”
Just as Michael Jordan set the bar for greatness in the NBA, so did Kobe. Everyone wants to be Kobe. Around the league today you can still see Kobe. Not Kobe himself but parts of his game shining through others.
If you want to see Kobe, he’s all around us. He’s Devin Booker’s post up game. He’s Demar DeRozan’s footwork. He’s Kyrie Irving’s clear out and let me go 1 on 5 mentality. He’s LeBron’s leadership. He’s Luka Dončić, Trae Young, and so many others’ emerging stardom. He is eternal.— Tyler (@TylerAtoms) January 27, 2020
“I would say 100 percent of today’s NBA model their game after Kobe,” Marvin said. “I think all of us, whether you were competing against him or watching him, all of us took something from him. Whether it was a move, his work ethic, his drive, whatever it was. Kobe set the bar for everybody. I think he took pride in that and I think the NBA is forever grateful for it.”
Marvin Williams faced off against Kobe more than anyone else in the Hornets’ locker room. He’s seen Kobe progress through his career into the remarkable man everyone now aspires to be. It’s reassuring to Williams that Kobe’s legacy will certainly live on.
“He’s done so many great things but at the end of the day, you want to be remembered not necessarily for the basketball player or the athlete you were but you want to be remembered for the man that you were and I think everyone will remember Kobe the most for the man that he was. “
“He’s Kobe. Just that name means so much to everyone around the world,” Nic Batum said Monday. They say the greats can be known just by their first name. Kobe.
Nic thought it was a bad dream. He woke up Monday morning and looked at his phone, hoping it was fake news. It was not. “I realized, man he’s gone. Kobe is no more. This is a tragic day. All of those people that passed away on that helicopter, it is sad for their family.
“When I heard the news about his daughter I just put my phone away and turned off my TV. My wife and I took our kids and had the best time with them. When you hear news like that you just try and stick together. We went outside and played basketball in the sun,” Batum told the media.
It’s not until someone’s gone until you realize how precious life really is.
“As a player, as a man, and as a family you’re affected,” Batum mournfully said. “He has a wife and three daughters still. I can’t imagine what they are going through right now. That’s awful. Of course, we are praying for her and her kids and everyone involved in this tragedy.”
Kobe gives Batum his first taste of the NBA
Every rookie wishes they had an NBA debut like P.J. Washington or Zion Williamson this year. Sadly, Nic Batum did not get a picture-perfect rookie game.
“My first NBA game ever was against Kobe,” Batum said. “The first time I ever got on an NBA basketball court. That was my first NBA memory. I had to guard Kobe. It was that guy.” Imagine your first NBA game. Your first NBA experience and memory, having to defend Kobe Bryant in his prime.
“[Kobe] had everything. He was strong. His footwork was amazing, his fadeaways, his first step. The thing is, if he wanted to kill you, he would kill you. LeBron is amazing and great, KD, T-Mac, all those guys. Kobe was a killer. He didn’t even have to have something against you. I had the edge on Kobe in the first quarter and he had 40 anyways on the night. That’s who he was. He was a killer and he was one of the best players ever. I don’t know how to describe it but the way he acted on the court. Kobe wanted to win more than anyone. He was a champion.”
Batum said to honor Kobe that they just have to keep playing basketball.
“That was his love. Just come out with that Mamba mentality and go out there and win. The man tore his Achilles, made both free throws and walked off the court. Who does that?”
Hornets’ assistant coach, Jay Triano was part of USA’s select team when Kobe Bryant was a part of Team USA in 2008. He shared stories with the team Monday morning that epitomize Kobe’s drive, intensity, hard work, and Mamba mentality he saw with team USA.
“[Kobe] would do pilates in the morning, lift weights, go to team breakfast, and practice,” Triano said Monday. “Kobe was the only guy out of the national team to shoot at night until some other players found out and would go back to shoot at night. I think that raised the level of everybody’s play. Everybody saw what the best player in the game was doing at the time. They took their game to another level because of him. I think that’s just one small story of how hard he worked and that mentality he had. We all just learned from him.”
Kobe illustrating the Mamba mentality
“I remember sitting on the bus with the Select team and I was the last coach then the players started. He was the first player in and I didn’t say anything. I just sat there and finally, he said ‘What’d you do last night?’ We were in Las Vegas and so I said, ‘Preparing for Uraguay.’ We had to play them in the qualification round. He goes and named three players [on Uruguay],” Triano explained. He asked Kobe how he knew three players from Uruguay already and he explained that they were going to have to play them.
“[Kobe] had already done his research on them so that kinda set the tone for me,” Triano explained to the media. “I remember the next day feeling comfortable and asked him what he did last night. He said, ‘I went to bed at 9:30. I have a busy day tomorrow. From 7 am to 7 pm it’s all basketball. I want to be the best player in the world.’”
That right there is Kobe Bean Bryant for you. A qualification round where scouting is not necessary. That 2008 team could have beaten the breaks off of any team. Kobe took it to the next level per usual.
Triano witnessed Kobe’s 81-point game first hand
Triano was with the Raptors when Kobe poured 81 on the Raptors on January 22, 2006. He was astounded at what was occurring in front of his very eyes.
“At the time, you almost pinch yourself in the fourth quarter,” Triano said. “Our whole strategy was – and we talked about it before – he was making plays for everybody else so let’s make him be a scorer. It was still a really good game. We may have even had the lead after three and he had 50. We were debating if we should stop a guy from scoring more than 50 or do we try and win a game. We just stayed with our plan. You just didn’t expect him to get 31 in the fourth.
“It was just one of those things where he just kept hitting three-point shots, he was getting fouled. We were trying to be more aggressive. He was in that zone where it didn’t matter what we did. Kobe was going to find a way to score. It was one of the greatest sporting events that I’ve ever seen.”
The part of Kobe’s game that separated him from any other player was how on any night he could humiliate whoever was guarding him. As a coach, you had to pick your poison. Kobe was a killer.
“I think there is times you go into a game and you’d say, ‘Don’t wake him up. Don’t give him any reason to get into that Mamba mentality,’ that he had. Once he got there it didn’t matter what you did. So if he had a quiet game passing the ball, let’s just live with that right now. I think Nic [Batum] was right. Kobe had the ability to change a game by himself. He was able to score at will, make plays for others at will, and do it when you kind of knew what he was going to do. He still did it better than everybody.”
“It was a very tough day for me,” Bridges explained. “When I heard about it I was actually playing a game with Devonte’ [Graham]. We were so hurt over it we had to stop playing. It was tough for us.”
Miles said he grew up watching Kobe. He was one of his idols. It hit him hard yesterday like it did so many others around the world. Despite the passing of a legend, Bridges still has memories with Bryant that he will forever cherish. Miles met Kobe twice. The first was at the Nike skills academy when Bridges was just 16.
“It was crazy, you had so many stars there. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, and other stars,” Bridges said. “But once Kobe walked into the gym, everybody just stopped and watched him and froze. I was like ‘Oh, that’s actually Kobe.’ Everybody stopped and listened. It was great meeting him. I got a lot of great advice from him at that camp.
“[Kobe] also talked about his schedule, what he did during the season and during the summer. That stuck with me through high school and gave me the motivation to keep working through college. I used to watch his highlights before all of my games.”
Bridges’ second interaction with Kobe came when he was working out with fellow Flint, Michigan native Kyle Kuzma at the Lakers’ training facility. It was a short interaction but one Miles will cherish for the rest of his life.
“Kobe walked past and I was like ‘Yo, Kobe, how are you doing?’ And he said, ‘I’m good what about you?’ I told him I was good, just working hard, preparing for the draft. And he told me, ‘Good that’s what I like to hear.'”
Kobe Bryant’s many ties to the Charlotte Hornets organization
As for the Hornets specifically, Kobe Bryant had many ties to the team, going back as far as 1996.
November 29, 2015: Kobe announced he would be retiring from basketball following the 2015-16 season. He was asked what his favorite “Kobe” memory was when he was in the league. His response? Draft night.
In the 1996 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets selected the 17-year-old from Lower Merion high school outside of Philadelphia, Pa. It was a pre-determined trade that sent center Vlade Divac to Charlotte in exchange for Bryant.
One of the men directly involved with the draft-night trade was now Charlotte Hornets’ general manager and president of basketball operations, Mitch Kupchak. He was in the Lakers’ front office for the entirety of Kobe’s career. From 1986 to 2000 he was the assistant gm under Jerry West, finally becoming the team’s full-time general manager in 2000. He was with the Lakers until 2017, witnessing Kobe Bryant’s entire career in a Laker uniform. Five championships, 18 All-Star apperences, 15 All-NBA selections, 12-time All-Defense selection, and his MVP award, just to name a few.
Kupchak offered his condolences Sunday after the heartbreaking passing of Kobe.
Arguably the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan was the man so many players aspired to be, including Kobe Bryant. Kobe has previously stated that he and MJ had a tight bond. Jordan, now the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, helped and mentored Kobe throughout his entire career, helping him become the killer that he was.
Statement from Michael Jordan: pic.twitter.com/oI7w6e7HLI— Estee Portnoy (@esteep) January 26, 2020